Managing Behavior at Home – Distance Learning

We struggle with behavior issues on a good day when we have a set schedule, so you can imagine how things have regressed since schools closed and we went to distance learning.

One of the reasons we ultimately decided to put our children in school this year was the need for routine and regiments. With two children who are special needs (ASD and ADHD), life had been getting progressively more chaotic and stressful.  While enrolling the kids in public school didn’t fix every problem (mornings have always been rough!), we did see a positive effect on our ASD kiddo with behavior and communication. Routine and rules just work for him.

Distance learning has been going alright – we are seasoned homeschoolers so getting back into an at-home school schedule has probably gone smoother for us than many other families where this situation isn’t the norm.

However, I will be the first to agree, as I keep seeing in posts and comments online, that distance learning is NOT homeschool. For one, I am not in control of the curriculum or the schedule. Each week we receive school work packets and turn in work from the previous week. This can be stressful because I am trying to keep my kids on track with their work because they still need to turn it in for grading. If we were truly homeschooling, I would have flexibility with work schedules and expectations.

Note – I am not criticizing our teachers – they have done an amazing job pulling together home-based assignment packets, online content and communicating with families during the school closures. Additionally I know our teachers understand the struggles that distance learning may involve and there is a lot of grace and flexibility on their end too. 

With a return to home-based learning, we have been struggling with some of the behavior issues that ultimately led us to public school. Lack of a solid routine, distractions from screens and siblings, fighting between siblings, minor habits becoming major annoyances, inability to stay on task or stay focused, melt downs, etc. It’s been stressful!

Thankfully there are so many resources available to parents to help implement strategies that will contribute to a successful home environment (or at the very least – more successful).

If I can make some suggestions right off the bat, it would be these:

  • Parents should be proactive, not reactive. Don’t wait until chaos and frustration reigns. Have at least a semblance of a plan of how you will deal with school work, chores, screen time, tantrums, etc.

  • Discuss things with your partner and have some expectations, strategies, and plans. Communication and being on the same page is so important.

  • Give yourself grace. Accept that bad days are going to happen – kids aren’t the only ones who have tantrums! But take a time-out, put the kids to bed early if needed, and be ready to do your best the next day. And don’t be afraid to apologize to your kids and admit to them that adults have bad days too.

Thankfully we are nearing the end of the school year, but even if you have only a few weeks remaining, these suggestions may be helpful.

Be organized!

You u may wear your Type B label as a badge of honor, but when it comes to managing school work at home, organization is key to maintaining sanity.

Especially if you are keeping up with more than one child (we have four!) – this is essential. I cleared out our colored bins to keep up with the workbooks that came home. Each child has a bin and school books go back to their bins when work is complete for the day.

For papers, I immediately go through the packets, and separate subjects with paperclips, and then use a metal clip to keep these smaller packets together for each child.

One of our colored bins is mine where I keep these packets.For daily work that can be done sort of independently (spelling pages, grammar pages, reading comprehension etc.), I put on clipboards.

Each child has their own clipboard. On my clipboard, I have weekly planning sheets from their teachers that I can mark off as assignments are done, as well as instructions for assignments that require more guidance.

Carve out independent work space for students, as much as possible.

Images of four happy children quietly doing their own work around the dining room table is NOT realistic for our family.Sometimes we start out working together, but usually the kids need to go off to different corners to not distract or annoy siblings. On a good day, I’ll send one or two to another room to work on their independent work, so I can do guided work at the dining room table with another. Then the kids rotate and I help another child.

Incorporate independent reading.

We’ve had book logs sent home each for two of our children, and even before our schools closed there was an expectation that students would be reading at home at least 15 minutes a day.

Be sure to keep this up even with distance learning. If one child has finished independent and guided work, I remind them to get some independent reading done. Younger children may find reading books together beneficial.

Manage screen time.

Distance learning often includes online content. Even my kindergartner has a list of You Tube video suggestions to watch each week.

Our district has also provided free (to us) access to various learning websites like Brainpop Jr, Get Epic!, ABC Mouse and Adventure Academy.

These are great resources for the kids and I see the benefits of them having these resources available.

However, at least for my family, screens are an automatic attention killer.If I am still helping one child with guided work or going over independent work, and one child is on the computer watching a You Tube video on phonics, attention will be drawn to the computer and not their book work.

Even if it’s in another room, the knowledge that a sibling has already gotten screen time is a major issue. So, to keep things simple and functional, I hold screen time until everyone has finished their other work, and then they have to take turns.

One benefit I have noticed – they tend to group together and watch what the other is watching or doing – so even though one child may have been assigned a Brainpop video to watch, the others also tend to watch and learn from it as well.

One caveat – I have a teenager and she has a lot more computer work than the others – content on Google Classroom, internet research, typing essays, spreadsheet work, etc.

I will allow her to have access for this kind of work, but have to keep her off Adventure Academy or Prodigy Math, because the “game” aspect draws the others’ attention away from their own work.

Communicate with the teachers!

The teachers are still available to give feedback and answer questions as needed. I encourage my teen to email her teachers directly with questions or if she needs clarification on an assignment.

For my younger students I may include a note about any issues we’ve had during the week when I send in our packet of completed work. I also communicate with the teachers through email as needed.

For children with an IEP, how a school implements individual plans is going to look different, depending on the child’s needs and restrictions placed on the schools.

Our ASD kiddo had been getting pulled once a week for Speech Therapy at school, and had a SpEd resource teacher checking in with him each week to help with focusing on assignments and making sure he understood what was expected on independent assignments.

With the schools closed, our plan obviously looks different. The speech therapist checks in weekly, and provides activities we can do at home to keep working on social skills and communication. The SpEd teacher who would check in on him weekly in class (and who has had a wonderful impact on our child) also checks in weekly to see how we are doing, and if there are any supports we need at home.

Give your child grace.

Children thrive with consistency and routine. The abrupt change to distance learning is likely stressful for children. Additionally, these changes are not isolated.

Visiting friends, sports, extracurriculars, going to the playground, even just running errands with mom or dad – outlets that would normally help alleviate some of a child’s stress are in most cases curtailed.

As we wrap up the school year, I am looking forward to our summer break. I will be switching over to “mom school” which involves read alouds, educational computer games, documentaries and some basic workbook stuff. All our children are officially readers (yay!) so independent reading will be a big part of our day.

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